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DRAMES v. SUN RIVER INV.

April 15, 1993

THOMAS DRAMES
v.
SUN RIVER INVESTMENT, S.A.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BY THE COURT; JOHN R. PADOVA

 Padova, J.

 I. INTRODUCTION

 On December 30, 1992, I entered a verdict in favor of defendant Sun River Investment, S.A. ("Sun River") based upon jury answers to three Special Interrogatories. Before me now is plaintiff Thomas Drames' motion to vacate the verdict and grant a new trial. For the following reasons, I will deny Drames' motion.

 Sun River owns the M/V KAIFU, a vessel that transports goods in foreign commerce. Sun River contracted with Holt Cargo Systems, Inc. ("Holt"), an independent stevedore, to unload fruit cargo from the M/V KAIFU. On April 10, 1991, Drames, a longshoreman employed by Holt, was injured while unloading cargo from the M/V KAIFU.

 Pursuant to the Longshore and Harbor Workers'

 Compensation Act (the "LHWCA"), 33 U.S.C.A. ยงยง 901 et seq. (West 1986 and West Supp. 1992), Drames brought suit against Sun River, alleging vessel negligence as the cause of his injuries. Drames claimed that his injuries resulted from Sun River's breach of its "active involvement duty" -- the vessel owner's duty to exercise due care to avoid exposing longshoremen to harm from hazards that they may encounter from equipment under the active control of the vessel. See Scindia Steam Navigation Co. v. De Los Santos, 451 U.S. 156, 167, 68 L. Ed. 2d 1, 101 S. Ct. 1614 (1981).

 Sun River filed a motion for summary judgment, which I denied. *fn1" The case proceeded to a bifurcated trial, the liability portion of which commenced on December 28, 1992 and concluded with the submission of six Special Interrogatories to the jury on December 30, 1992. *fn2" The jury answered Interrogatories Nos. 1 and 2 in the affirmative, but found, in answering Interrogatory No. 3 in the negative, that Drames was not within the "zone of danger." *fn3" Having answered Interrogatory No. 3 in the negative, the jury did not reach Interrogatories Nos. 4, 5, and 6. Based on the jury's determination that Drames was not within the "zone of reasonably foreseeable danger," I concluded that even though the jury found Sun River's conduct negligent, the law imposed no legal duty on Sun River under these circumstances. Accordingly, I molded a verdict in Sun River's favor and against Drames on the issue of liability.

 Plaintiff assigns the following three errors as grounds for a new trial: (1) the Court erred in submitting Interrogatory No. 3 to the jury because the issue of whether Drames was within the zone of danger created by Sun River's conduct is a matter of law for the Court to decide; (2) the Court erred in its charge by delineating an improper standard of law with respect to whether plaintiff was within the zone of danger; and (3) the jury's answers to Interrogatories Nos. 2 and 3 are irreconcilably in conflict.

 II. EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT TRIAL

 On the day of his injury, Drames had been assigned to operate the M/V KAIFU's booms and winches serving the No. 3 hatch in the cargo unloading process. After the start of the process, a chandelier spreader *fn4" was attached to the cargo hook, which was connected to the booms that Drames was operating. Shortly thereafter, Drames experienced difficulty in operating both booms simultaneously.

 The problem was reported to the ship's crew who made the decision to attempt to remedy the problem by repositioning the starboard boom. The crew members climbed upon the elevated winch deck and took over operation of the booms from the longshoremen to correct the problem. One crew member relieved Drames at the controls, and Drames left the control area and assumed a position on the elevated winch deck.

 During the repositioning operation that was conducted by the crew, the line to which the chandelier spreader was attached became slack. As a result, the chandelier spreader took a free fall into the hatch, causing a noise to emanate. *fn5" Drames testified that he was startled by what he considered a loud and unusual noise that he feared might be a boom falling and, to escape the perceived danger, ran into a ventilator adjacent to the place where he was standing, thereby suffering injury. Drames' exact position was contested by the parties at trial. However, the evidence is clear that Drames was well outside the area of the falling chandelier spreader.

 III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

 A "new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties of the issues . . . in an action in which there has been a trial by jury, for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a). Three grounds for granting a motion for new trial have been recognized:

 (1) manifest error of law; (2) manifest error of fact; and

 (3) newly discovered evidence. See Step-Saver Data Systems, Inc. v. Wyse Technology, 752 F. Supp. 181, 185 (E.D. Pa. 1990) (citing 6A Moore, Lucas & Grother, Moore's Federal Practice P 59.07, at 59-73 (2d ed. 1984); Thomas v. E.J. Korvette, Inc., 476 F.2d 471, 474-75 (3d Cir. 1973)), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 939 F.2d 91 (3d Cir. 1991). The decision of whether to grant a new trial rests within the sound discretion of the trial judge, whose duty it is to ensure that the verdict does not result in a miscarriage of justice. See Gutzan v. Altair Airlines, ...


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